Shame on Us!
Anyone who has had the privilege of hearing first-hand testimony of the Holocaust understands its fundamental value and importance. The sad truth is that these chances are quickly dwindling and it is our imperative, both as a community and as individuals, to take advantage of these priceless opportunities.
Hearing a first-hand account of a Holocaust survivor is truly priceless. Priceless in the sense that there is no way to place a financial value on the experience.
Not in the sense that we should view it as free.
According to recent studies published by The Blue Card, a non-profit dedicated to providing assistance to survivors in America, the financial situation of many Holocaust survivors is extremely dire. One third of Holocaust survivors in America live under the poverty line, and nearly two-thirds sustain themselves on less than $23,000 a year.
These numbers are drastically lower than national averages, not to mention compared to the rest of the Jewish community.
This situation is nothing short of a moral failing. It is a moral failing that reaches across Jewish denominational and political lines. It is a moral failing that nearly every Jewish organization from summer camps to schools to Federations and campus groups needs to take immediate steps to fix.
The first step is very simple.
No group should ever expect a Holocaust survivor to tell their story for free. Come Yom Hashoah, Tisha B’av, or various other occasions, nearly every type of Jewish organization relies on survivors to bolster their programming.
There should always be some type of honorarium for doing so.
I often feel as if the Jewish community views Holocaust survivors as a group sitting around on call until we need them to speak at some Holocaust program. An honorarium would be a great start in reversing this sentiment and also providing many survivors with some extra, and often much needed, money.
However, it is clear that honorariums alone cannot seriously tackle this pervasive issue. To really solve this problem, Jewish organizations need to step up and provide funding.
I get it, all Jewish organizations struggle raising money and many Jewish professionals spend the bulk of their career trying to secure grants and endowments for various projects.
Nevertheless, Jewish organizations have money. Lots of it. We have money for both formal and informal Jewish education from preschool to college, not to mention summer camps. We have money to actively fight against demonization of Israel brought about by BDS and their ilk. We have money to fund tens of thousands of free trips to Israel. We even have money for Holocaust museums, educators and delegations to the concentration camps.
Meanwhile an elderly Holocaust survivor, living alone in her small one bedroom apartment, will go to sleep hungry tonight.
Should we still be spending time and resources on prosecuting Nazi war criminals, many of whom are old and sick? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
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